‘Battle tested’ USA face free-scoring Brazil in Gold Cup final

The Queens of North and South America women’s football clash on Sunday as the United States face Brazil in the final of the CONCACAF women’s Gold Cup.

The USA, four-times World Cup winners and four-times Olympic champions, have long dominated the game in North America but have looked increasingly vulnerable in the past two years.

After their shock exit in the round-of-16 at the World Cup last year, the team is undergoing a partial rebuild ahead of new coach Emma Hayes taking over in June in time for the Paris Olympics.

With interim head coach Twila Kilgore in charge for this tournament, the USA lost to Mexico in their final group stage game and only scraped past Canada on penalties in Wednesday’s rain-drenched semi-final.

While Brazil’s World Cup and Olympic record is more modest, they have won eight of the nine Copa America tournaments they have entered and have impressed in the Gold Cup.

After winning all three of their group stage encounters, they beat Argentina 5-1 in the quarters before despatching Mexico 3-0.

– Creative ability –

Those performances have the USA well aware that they can take nothing for granted at Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego.

“I think they’re a team with a lot of flair, with a lot of creative ability, with a ton of technical ability,” said USA midfielder Sam Coffey.

“I think they also play with a lot of passion, a lot of fire. I think they have it more so than any other opponent we’ve played to this point…we’re excited to face up against (them),” she added.

Goals haven’t been hard to find for the Brazilians who have scored 15 in five matches so far while conceding just once and 11 different players have found the target.

Forward Bia Zaneratto, who recently joined Kansas City in the US-based NWSL, is the main attacking threat along with Spain-based Gabi Nunes, but Brazil’s fluid approach makes them a tricky opponent to neutralise.

“We’re not just looking at one or two players. We have to be prepared for anyone or anything or any lineup,” said USA defender Naomi Girma.

“While we, of course, respect and recognize so much of their individual talent, we have to prepare for them as a team holistically – and that’s 11 players on the field,” she added.

The USA planned to use this tournament to give opportunities to some of their younger talent but injuries meant that 34-year-old Alex Morgan was recalled and she has responded with two goals and some strong displays.

But after the trauma of their exit on penalties to Sweden at the World Cup, their victory via the same method against Canada, after the game on a near water-logged pitch ended 2-2 after extra-time, appeared to be a cathartic experience.

“I think the biggest thing that we’ve taken away is just like how battle-tested we are,” said Coffey.

“I think we are in the best position we could possibly be in going into this final because we are battle-tested from different opponents, from different weather, from all sorts of different factors, and I think going forward that just puts us in a position where we’ve been through the fire and we’ve come out stronger,” she added.

“Sometimes that’s been difficult like post-Mexico (defeat), but I think we’ve seen just so many different scenarios and situations this tournament and have been better because of it,” she said. BSS

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